I don’t really remember where this idea came from, but I think it’s most likely a carry-over kinda thing from a project I worked on way back in 2013 at Cooper Hewitt called Curatorial Poetry. Even back then, I was really interested in delivering small doses of goodness to people who might need it. Curatorial Poetry was entirely automated, but its messages were usually pretty funny, and I think the randomness and surprise aspect really made it work. It ended in 2015—not sure why exactly.
So, recently I came up with a more manual idea of doing something similar via email. I guess I’ve been interested in how I can use email more effectively or something—newsletters, Substacks, all that. So, one night, in the wee hours, CC0 Email was born.
The idea was pretty simple—a single email each morning of the week with a single image and link back to the place I found it. Eventually I decided to do a different theme each week, and I started adding in little tweet-sized comments to make it a little fun.
The project hasn’t really taken off just yet. I’ve got about 20 subscribers, including myself and my wife. But, I thought it might be fun to talk about how I created the project, almost entirely using Mailchimp.
At first I was pretty hell bent on making sure I didn’t spend a single penny on this project. So, when I saw that Mailchimp was offering a free domain, I grabbed one up and was able to secure cc0.email. MC registered the domain for me, and it’s all managed right within their platform. — To be honest, I don’t really need a domain for this project, but I thought it was a nice touch.
To get people to sign up I created a simple Landing Page right within Mailchimp. This was also super easy to do and it’s on the cc0.email domain, which is also nice. I never had to leave MC to make this happen, and I get to see a little bit of analytics about people coming to the landing page right within MC. The landing page just lets you know what the project is all about and gives me something I can share as a link so people can sign up. It also tags anyone who signs up as coming from the landing page, which I suppose is useful.
Once you sign up, you get a nice welcome email. This is mostly to let you know that you’ve successfully signed up, but also to let ME know that you are receiving my emails through a little spy-pixel tracking. They say Welcome Emails are often the most read email you will ever send your audience, so I also included our Studio logo and a link.
I created a separate list in Mailchimp for CC0. I thought this was important as I figured people might be interested in this thing, but not interested in any of our Studio news or my personal newsletter or other activities. CC0 is its own thing, so it has its own list. Since I am sending a Welcome Email and using a landing page, I turned off most of the Form options like double-opt-in, and confirmation emails.
CC0 Email comes from firstname.lastname@example.org. I just made it up. I could have enabled Conversations in Mailchimp to field replies, but I actually don’t really want people replying to this thing as its currently just meant to be a one-way communication kinda deal. Since I registered the domain via MC, I didn’t have to verify the domain or anything to use the phony address.
I decided to use a pretty simple subject line that also included “from Micah Walter Studio” as a way to let people know who created this thing. It’s a little branding nudge, but I think it’s kinda nice. Care of, me.
The Daily Posts
So every night during the week, I poke around for a public domain work. I’ve been looking at a handful or sources and have started to branch out a bit. The sources are mainly museums at the moment and a couple of archives. Library of Congress has a lot of great photography, Cooper Hewitt has figurines, and then there are all the art museums. It’s amazing how hard it is to find good stuff that is in the public domain. There are tons of sources, TONS of material, works, pictures, etc. but the search tools are all very different and confusing and well, just not that great.
But, each night I manage to find something, I resize the picture to 800px and copy and paste whatever title and citation info I can find, linked back to the place where I found it. I then write up a little half-sentence blurb and I’m done. I schedule the post to go out the next morning at 8am ET.
I also use Mailchimp to automatically post the emails to my social media channels. At first I was just doing this to Twitter, but then I realized it was also pretty easy to do this to Facebook and Instagram. I’m still playing with the settings there, but what’s nice about FB and IG is that you get a “Social Post” campaign in MC where you can see more analytics.
In order to better understand my readers, I decided to create a simple survey, also done directly through Mailchimp. It lets people who read the email answer a few quick questions which lets me know what they think of the project. So far I have received just one response, but it’s early days!
I’m also experimenting with Mailchimp’s integrated Ad feature. It lets you send campaigns as Facebook and Instagram or Google Ads. You can use this to re-target list members, or in my case, find new subscribers. It was very easy to create an ad, but I already had most of what I needed on the Facebook end of this set up from previous campaigns. I just created one and it’s currently being reviewed.
Overall, building CC0 Email couldn’t have been easier. I really liked the idea of trying to do this entirely within the Mailchimp ecosystem since it meant I could use it as a way to really learn how Mailchimp works and what it can do that I hadn’t tried previously.
I think the project has legs, even though I only have 20 subscribers so far. I can see from my FB and IG Social Posts that I am getting a good amount of engagement via those channels, even though they don’t subscribe to the email yet. It’s also nice to create something each evening and see it go out the next day, even if it’s just something as simple as an image and a sentence—it’s still from me, hand-crafted and specially prepared.